GCU cooks up homey Thanksgiving for students

Student Sarah Beebe got in the holiday spirit by posing for a photograph in full warm-weather vacation gear to send a life-size cutout to her Colorado parents.

By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau

The campus will be a home away from home for many Grand Canyon University students this Thanksgiving, following advice from the University to avoid travel because of the pandemic.

But the holiday won’t pass without celebration, starting with Wednesday night’s first men’s basketball game at GCU Arena vs. Grambling State with physical-distancing arrangements.

Some students will gather for a “Friendsgiving,” while the University has kept open recreational facilities, planned a parade and a Thanksgiving meal that even grandma would envy.

Campus leaders hatched several ideas to make the best of it, and they already have hit home with many students:


Facing the prospect of her first Thanksgiving away from family in Colorado, student Sarah Beebe at first didn’t exactly warm to the idea from Canyon Promotions of sending a life-size cutout photograph of herself to family for the missing spot at the dining table.

“When I saw the signs for it, I thought, ‘Great, I can’t go home and now you’re going to rub it in our faces.’ But then I talked with friends and our parents really wanted one,” she said.

So they went all out for the photo shoot last week, putting on sun hats and beach shirts and rubbing their noses with sunscreen, to play up the fact they were in sunny Phoenix.

“You have snow and here we are in 90-degree weather,” Beebe said.

She’s coming around, getting in the spirit.

“It will be different but it’s OK. We’re making the best of it. We’re having a ‘Friendsgiving.’ I’m making the sweet potato casserole.”


There will be no shortage of food options over the long weekend. Many dining spots will remain open, even some on Thanksgiving Day, such as Einstein Bro. Bagels, Panda Express, Qdoba and Herd Stop.

But the highlight is a Thanksgiving Day meal served from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. at Harvest Kitchen that includes all the traditional favorites, such as turkey, mashed potatoes, candied yams, green bean casserole, pie and other treats.

Executive Chef Milton Gamez worked hard to capture the traditional flavors of home, said Jessica Maichel, Marketing Supervisor for GCU Dining, operated by Sodexo. He put expert twists on leek stuffing and a harvest salad made with acorn squash and cranberries.

Nate Lowery

Students got involved, too. GCU Dining invited them to submit recipes from home, and many salads and comforting dishes such as cheesy potatoes filtered in.

“We really wanted to shed light on recipes from home to really bring the aspect of home coming to GCU, especially on Thanksgiving,” Maichel said.

The first recipe chosen to be available at Harvest Kitchen was freshman Nate Lowery’s caramel apple salad, picked for the cook's enthusiasm for its goodness.

“It’s a recipe we’ve had for years that we always make at Thanksgiving,” Lowery said.

It’s his holiday favorite, and he usually helps make it and eat it with gusto. Lowery thought it would be a good one for students.

“It’s a really simple recipe that’s not hard to make – just mix the ingredients together and chill, and it’s ready to go,” he said.

The secret ingredient? An instant butterscotch pudding mix that gives it that caramel flavor (see recipe below).

A Thanksgiving dinner isn’t complete without seconds, so students can go back for more. And those in quarantine will be delivered the meal, also with seconds.


Jaci Curran had an additional inspiration for those students in quarantine at the GCU Hotel after hearing some were lonely.

The Local Outreach Manager in Spiritual Life thought that Thanksgiving is often a time when families gather to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, so why not have one for the students?

Starting at 1 p.m. Wednesday, students can look out their hotel windows and see a parade outside, traveling the building perimeter. Nearly two dozen people in costumes or Christmas sweaters will carry balloons as big as four feet of superheroes, "Star Wars" characters and other movie favorites.

They couldn’t get a Snoopy balloon, but one of the children in the parade will be dressed like one. Another will be a reindeer. And Santa is expected to make an appearance.

“We wanted to brighten up their day, being away from family,” Curran said. “It’s our way to just remind them we care, and people are praying for them.”

The event will be streamed on Instagram at @gcuquarantine.

Those students also will be given a care package with snacks and puzzles, even nostalgic “cheesy” fun activities, such as drawing a turkey using the outline of your hand, Curran said.

Also ...

Other special adjustments and events for the holiday weekend include:

  • Fitness facilities and the Canyon Activity Center are staying open every day except Thursday and Friday; Thunderground will be open every day for those spirited games of billiards, foosball or bowling.
  • The Canyon Activities Board will hold a movie night at 6 p.m. Friday with two options: In the Quad, watch in-person (with candy!) the showing of “Santa Clause,” or join an online watch party with multiple movies for those in quarantine (movies to be announced).

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

Recreation hours during break

Thunderground: 3-10 p.m. Thur., noon-10 p.m. Fri-Sun.

Canyon Activity Center: 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily (closed Thur-Fri.)

Fitness centers at Antelope, Chaparral, Juniper, Papago and Lopes Performance Center: 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Wed.; 8 a.m.-7 p.m. Sat.-Sun. (closed Thur.-Fri.)

Climbing wall: 2-8 p.m. Mon.-Tues.

Nate Lowery’s Caramel Apple Salad


1 8 oz. container of fat free cool whip

4 large apples

1 8 oz. can of pineapple tidbits (include juice)

1 6 oz. box of fat- and sugar-free instant butterscotch pudding mix

1/4 cup chopped peanuts (optional)


Cut apples into small pieces

Mix all ingredients together in a bowl

Chill for 1 hour


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GCU Magazine

Bible Verse

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

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